No. 58  Keeping the Memory of 3.11 from fading away, Being Prepared for Disasters

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The 7th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake is approaching.
Over 20,000 people died or were missing by the earthquake. Even now, many evacuees from the nuclear power plant accident live in temporary housing. In Tokyo, where the quake registered over 5 on the seismic intensity scale, chaos ensued and enormous numbers of people were unable to return home. Afterwards, art museums in the city closed temporarily or shortened their operating hours, and some museums were subject to planned power outages.
Today, exciting exhibitions of all kinds are in progress around Tokyo because peaceful days have returned and life is back to normal. We look at literary and historical museums that are working to keep memory of the earthquake disaster from fading away.

The “Natural Disasters & Preparing for Them” section featuring compelling film imagery (Fire Museum)

A Chance to See That Same Artwork Again, This Year

The Museum of Modern Japanese Literature

Each year, in the period when March 11 rolls around, the project “3.11 Message from Literary Museums” gets underway at museums of the Japan Association of Literary Museums. Two years after the great quake, Minoru Nakamura (poet), the Association’s then chairman, made an appeal, saying “How has literature spoken of great disasters? I propose that literary museums nationwide simultaneously hold exhibitions as a way of giving thought to the disaster victims and reflecting on our way of life.” In response to his call, 41 museums took part. Ever since, around 30 museums have annually held exhibitions under the theme, “literature and natural disaster.”
This year, 29 museums are taking part nationwide. They include five museums in Tokyo—Mori Ogai Memorial Museum, Yoshimura Akira Literature Museum, The Museum of Modern Japanese Literature, Hayashi Fumiko Memorial Museum, and Mushakoji Saneatsu Memorial Museum .

The exhibition “Writing about the Earthquake” has been presented by The Museum of Modern Japanese Literature since fiscal 2012. At the exhibition, poets, haiku poets, lyricists, and novelists display their own calligraphic writings about the Great East Japan earthquake disaster and nuclear power plant accident. Featured this year are writings by the Fukushima poet Wago Ryoichi and excerpts from Ito Seiko’s “Sozo Rajio” (“Imagination Radio”), a novel inspired by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

JR Shinjuku Station, crowded with after-work commuters due to power outages (3.14.2011)

Learn History and Check Your Readiness

Miniature model of fire fighting in the Edo period

In Japan, earthquakes can occur at any time. Visitors to Fire Museum can not only learn the history of fire fighting since Edo period (1603-1868) but also confirm their own readiness for disasters.
The mini-theater is playing a disaster prevention film explaining the importance of self-help and mutual assistance in the case of a quake directly hitting Tokyo. Next the quake itself, the most fearful thing is fire. The basic rules come to mind—“Don’t forget to turn off the electricity breakers.” “Extinguishing the fire at an early stage is important.”
The Fire Museum’s 10th floor has an exhibit showing the proper response to an earthquake when in a high-rise condominium. Similarly, its basement floor, where fire trucks from different eras are displayed, posts instructions for responding to a quake, heavy rain, or fire when in an underground space.
The “Learning from Earthquake Disasters” section looks at conditions during the Great Kanto Earthquake, Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and Great East Japan Earthquake under headings like “Stranded commuters” and “Volunteer activities.” As we might expect of the fire department as experts in emergency rescue, the museum’s special theme is learning what to do.
The history of fire fighting since Edo period is also unique. Visitors are busily snapping their cameras in front of a fireman’s “matoi” fire banner, miniature-scale Edo townscape, and a horse-drawn steam pump. Audio guides are provided not only in Japanese but also English, Korean, and Chinese so foreign visitors can also enjoy these unusual exhibits.
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The 3.11 disaster was an overwhelming incident that shook people’s values to the core. Its memory must not be forgotten. Literary museums, history museums, and also art museums address the issue.

Updated: February 23, 2018